This Small but Mighty Producer Takes a Traditional Cretan Variety to New Heights

Award-winning Silvergreen elevates the products of Crete via the Tsounati, a delicate but rewarding olive variety native to the Greek island.
Hand picking olives at Silvergreen. (Photo: Antonis Tsoulos)
By Costas Vasilopoulos
Jul. 6, 2023 14:46 UTC

Two rel­a­tives with the dream of cre­at­ing world-class extra vir­gin olive oil, the fam­ily olive groves and the unique ter­roir of Crete, are the main ingre­di­ents of Silvergreen, which crafts olive oil from an indige­nous Cretan cul­ti­var.

Silvergreen is Andreas and Emmanuel,” said Emmanuel Vantarakis, one of the two cousins behind the com­pany. Of course, our fam­i­lies are always next to us, pro­vid­ing a help­ing hand in the har­vest and sup­port­ing us all the way.”

Every drop of olive oil we pro­duce is a wor­thy rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the cul­tural wealth of our island.- Emmanuel Vantarakis, co-owner, Silvergreen

Silvergreen was born from the expe­ri­ences and knowl­edge the cousins accu­mu­lated while liv­ing abroad and trav­el­ing.

In our trav­els, we had the oppor­tu­nity to get our hands on a lot of qual­ity agri­cul­tural prod­ucts and wit­ness good pro­duc­tion prac­tices,” Vantarakis said. These expe­ri­ences, together with our com­mon val­ues of cul­ture, ecol­ogy and gas­tron­omy, made us return to Crete in 2019 and merge the fam­i­lies groves.”

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We aimed to pro­duce extra vir­gin olive oil from the ancient Tsounati vari­ety that would be of com­pa­ra­ble qual­ity to the great oils we tasted in other places,” he added.

The olive groves of Silvergreen lie close to the coastal city of Rethymnon in Crete. They mainly com­prise olive trees of the Tsounati vari­ety, one of the old­est olive cul­ti­vars on the island.

Tsounati is con­sid­ered the most tra­di­tional olive vari­ety of Crete,” Vantarakis said. The Tsounati trees are quite dif­fer­ent from the more wide­spread Koroneiki trees. Their leaves are lighter green, their crown is more irreg­u­lar and their dru­pes are big­ger and quite del­i­cate, being unfor­giv­ing to mis­takes dur­ing pro­cess­ing.”

Being a demand­ing vari­ety when it comes to grow­ing, many Tsounati trees on the island have been replaced by trees of the Koroneiki vari­ety, an eas­ier-to-grow and more pre­dictable olive cul­ti­var,” he added.

Vantarakis pointed out that the indige­nous Cretan olive cul­ti­vars are per­fectly adapted to the island’s micro­cli­mate, shaped by the island’s intense relief and the com­bined influ­ence of the sea and the moun­tains.


The Tsounati olive groves of Silvergreen (Photo: Antonis Tsoulos)

Our olive groves are non-irri­gated, which shows that our Tsounati trees grow in their ideal habi­tat, that of Crete,” he said.

Nevertheless, cli­mate change and the lower amount of rain we get now have made us recon­sider the olive tree from a holis­tic approach as part of the ecosys­tem,” Vantarakis added. Our main objec­tive is to under­stand and respect the cycles of nature itself.”

Silvergreen is a mod­est pro­ducer in terms of pro­duc­tion vol­umes, with an annual pro­duc­tion of a few thou­sand kilo­grams of olive oil. However, being small has become advan­ta­geous for the com­pany in apply­ing the desired cul­ti­va­tion prac­tices.

In our cer­ti­fied organic olive groves, we apply even stricter grow­ing meth­ods than those required by the prin­ci­ples of organic farm­ing, which would be nearly impos­si­ble to apply if we pro­duced larger quan­ti­ties of olive oil,” Vantarakis said.

He added that they also exper­i­ment with bio­dy­namic and regen­er­a­tive farm­ing meth­ods to tackle recur­ring prob­lems such as higher-than-usual tem­per­a­tures, drought and the olive fruit fly.

Our olive trees are in good com­pany with almond and fig trees, aspara­gus and wild capers, which pre­vent soil ero­sion and pro­vide shade against the scorch­ing sun,” Vantarakis said. The plants also pro­vide the per­fect habi­tat for a vari­ety of birds and insects which, in turn, con­tribute to keep­ing the fruit fly and other pathogens under con­trol.”


Furthermore, pes­ti­cides, even those allowed in organic farm­ing, are almost com­pletely phased out at Silvergreen.

Our main source of fer­til­izer are sheep and even horses left to roam freely in our groves,” Vantarakis said.


Sheep and horses in the olive groves are the main source of fertilizer. (Photo: Antonis Tsoulos)

He noted, how­ever, that when­ever eco­log­i­cal ben­e­fits are involved, mod­ern tech­nol­ogy is the way to go for field oper­a­tions.

For exam­ple, in the con­text of regen­er­a­tive agri­cul­ture, we move from using the man­u­ally oper­ated sprin­klers bio­dy­namic agri­cul­ture envis­ages to drones,” Vantarakis said. Drones allow for bet­ter appli­ca­tion. They are more pre­cise, sav­ing water and emit­ting sig­nif­i­cantly less car­bon diox­ide than other motor­ized means.”


Efkrato, Silvergreen’s extra vir­gin from Tsounati olives, has won awards at the NYIOOC World Olive Oil Competition for two years: a Gold Award in its debut in 2022 and another in 2023.

Efkrato is also high in polyphe­nols, bear­ing a health claim that meets the E.U. reg­u­la­tion 432/2012 require­ments. The reg­u­la­tion spec­i­fies that olive oils con­tain­ing at least 5 mil­ligrams of polyphe­nols per 20 grams of olive oil can pro­tect blood lipids from oxida­tive stress.

It is the exchange we get for nur­tur­ing and lov­ing our olive trees,” Vantarakis said. Being able to pro­duce a deli­cious and healthy olive oil from a demand­ing vari­ety that earned two Gold Awards in New York with­out com­pro­mis­ing on envi­ron­men­tal impact is the ulti­mate recog­ni­tion of our efforts.”


Emmanuel and Andreas Vantarakis with family during harvest (Photo: Antonis Tsoulos)

Efkrato is a mild mono­va­ri­etal extra vir­gin made from early har­vested Tsounati olives, boast­ing green almond peel and arti­choke aro­mas. It is ideal with fish and can per­fectly com­ple­ment sal­ads and veg­eta­bles.

It can even be added to fruits or ice cream,” Vantarakis pointed out. Efkrato offers a unique com­bi­na­tion of culi­nary plea­sure and nutri­tional value.”

In response to client requests, Silvergreen has also begun host­ing olive oil-tast­ing events in the com­pa­ny’s olive groves and selected restau­rants across Crete.

Our guests can enjoy a dive into the Cretan cui­sine, tast­ing selected olive oils from the indige­nous vari­eties of Crete, each of which is ide­ally paired with a dif­fer­ent local dish,” Vantarakis said.

The suc­cess of Silvergreen is firmly rooted in the ancient Cretan Tsounati olive cul­ti­var. For Vantarakis, how­ever, the company’s accom­plish­ments are a chance for a trip down mem­ory lane and a way to pro­mote the true iden­tity of his island.

Efkrato is the improved ver­sion of the olive oil we grew up tast­ing,” he said. Needless to say, the olive trees and olive oil are key ele­ments not only of the famous Cretan diet, which is ben­e­fi­cial to health and also the most sus­tain­able, but also of the cul­tural iden­tity of Crete.”

Every drop of olive oil we pro­duce is a wor­thy rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the cul­tural wealth of our island,” Vantarakis con­cluded.


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